Yanks sign Bartolo Colon to a minor league deal

Full-size spare included. (AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo)

Update by Mike (1:13pm): Joel Sherman says Colon can become a free agent if he doesn’t make the team out of Spring Training. It’s a zero risk move, and if nothing else it’ll light a little fire under the asses of Sergio Mitre and whatever kids audition for a rotation spot in camp. Minor league deal with an opt out before the season … who cares? No complaints.

In seven winter ball starts, Colon struck out 28 and walked just six, posting a 1.93 ERA in 37.1 IP. Yankee bench coach Tony Pena was his manager, so you figure he had some input before they signed him.

Original Post (11:49am): FoxSports.com’s Jon Morosi reports that the Yankees have signed Bartolo Colon to a minor league contract with an invite to spring training. Buster Olney notes that Colon will earn $900,000 plus incentives if he makes the team. The two parties had been connected previously this winter, but I honestly didn’t think there was anything to it. There is little indication that Colon can handle a starting job in the majors at this point.

Colon last pitched more than 100 innings in 2005, the year he somehow won the Cy Young award. In the following four years he threw just 257 innings, with his high, 99.1, coming in 2007. His contract expired after that season and he found his way to the Red Sox in 2008. After starting the season in the minors he got the call in late May and pitched decently well in six starts. Then he hit the DL with a lower back injury and sat out until late September, when he returned to make one start. In 2009 he caught on with the White Sox, but again injuries derailed his season. He missed 44 days with knee troubles, returned for one start in July, and then missed the rest of the season with elbow troubles. His 4.19 ERA doesn’t quite reflect how badly he pitched: his FIP was 5.70, thanks mostly to a homer rate of 1.88 per nine.

Given Colon’s recent health history, which probably played into his complete absence in 2010, I don’t think the Yanks expect much from this. He wanted to make a comeback, and is — get this — in the best shape of his life. Since this is a minor league deal, it means little risk for the Yankees. The only downside is that they need to give him innings in the spring, which means that someone else will move to the minor league complex a bit earlier. (Or, I suppose, that Colon gets cut early.) It’s nice to see the Yankees going after reclamation projects as back of the rotation possibilities, but I find it nearly impossible to envision a scenario in which Colon can help the team.

Defining A Bust

Busts don't get much bigger. (Photo Credit: John Iacono/SI)

The term “bust” gets thrown around quite a bit these days. It’s short, simple, easy to spell, and vague enough that it can be used it describe a variety of things without much basis or room for debate. It epitomizes the knee-jerk nature of the internet, just ask Andrew Brackman after the 2009 season. Of course not all busts are created equal, so why do we lump them all together under one umbrella term?

Although busts can happen at any level in any sport, we’re going to focus on the term as it related to minor leaguers and prospects. This is where it gets used most often anyway. Players who flame out will typically fall into one of four categories, though we should probably acknowledge that a fifth exists and covers all the miscellaneous stuff that happens. Let’s take a look…

1. Injury Busts
This is probably the most common kind of bust, especially when it comes to pitchers. Players get hurt and it can irreparably change their careers, it’s just part of life. Sometimes it’s a fluke thing, sometimes it’s the result of flawed mechanics or poor form. Unless the team consciously puts a player in harm’s way or the player deliberately injuries himself, there’s no sense in assigning blame here. Shit happens man, usually there’s nothing you can do about it.

Brien Taylor is worth a mention here because he certainly qualifies as an injury bust, but that doesn’t mean taking him first overall in 1991 was a poor decision. He was the best prospect in the draft class and is arguably the best high school pitching prospect of the last 25 years. He killed the minors in his first season (161 IP, 121 H, 187 K, 2.57 ERA), but he blew out his shoulder in an off-the-field incident. Calling Taylor a bad pick because of the injury is revisionist history at it’s finest.

2. Talent/Skills Busts
Sometimes a player just doesn’t have it. They’re lacking a key baseball skill to become a successful player, or maybe they simply don’t have enough talent as everyone else. Tim Battle is a perfect example of the former; the kid had all the talent in the world but simply couldn’t recognize pitches that broke and was unable to get the bat on the ball consistently. Those two flaws proved to be fatal, and he was done before his 23rd birthday.

These kinds of busts fall at the feet of both the player and team. Although it takes a certain amount of God-given ability to play the game at a high level, it’s up to the player to put in the work needed to improve and advance. Some guys just don’t do that. It’s also up to the team to recognize who has “it” and who doesn’t. Trust me, this is much, much easier said than done. When someone learns how to perfect scouting to even a 50% success rate, they’ll become very, very rich.

3. Development Path Busts
Players that bust because of a poor development path/plan are hard to define, but they do exist. Eric Duncan jumps to mind. He was the best power hitting high school prospect in the country when the Yankees drafted him in 2003, and a year later he posted a .358 wOBA with 43 doubles and 16 homers in 538 plate appearances split between Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa as a 19-year-old. Given the state of their big league team and the need for prospects to use in trades, the Yanks rushed Duncan up the ladder in an effort to make him more desirable in a trade. First overall pick Delmon Young was the only 2003 high school draftee to beat Duncan to Triple-A, a level he reached at age 21. The aggressive promotions hurt his development because he simply wasn’t ready to face that caliber of competition.

Who knows, maybe Duncan wasn’t going to cut it out no matter how much time he was given, but the team certainly did him no favors. Fernando Martinez of the Mets is another example of this, that kid was in the big leagues at age 20 with less than a season’s worth of playing time at either Double-A or Triple-A. Every prospect has a unique development path, and it’s not often that being rushed helps them out. Development busts are on the team.

4. Expectation Busts
This one is tricky because these players aren’t really busts, but we consider them to be because they didn’t meet our expectations. Look at Joba Chamberlain. He’s a fine reliever and a productive big leaguer (already the fourth best 41st overall pick in draft history), but a legion of fans consider him a bust because he did not/has not yet reached his ceiling. Then you have people throwing the bust tag on Brackman after one pro season (his first off major elbow surgery, mind you), which was silly and short-sighted, as he showed in 2010. Expectation busts fall on the fans because they’re the ones that aren’t satisfied and are usually being unreasonable. We’re all guilty of it, don’t try to hide.

* * *

Regardless of what you want to call it, busts are an unavoidable evil. There’s something like 5,000 players in the various levels of the minor leagues and only 750 big league jobs up for grabs. That’s a 15% success rate, and even that seems high when you consider a) all the kids playing around the globe in hopes of securing a contract, and b) that some big leaguers aren’t even qualified to be in the show. That won’t stop everyone from breaking out the term with little to no context when a prospect goes bad or a trade doesn’t work out, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t acknowledge that different kinds of busts exist.

Trust me, I’m well aware of how much it sucks when one of our favorite prospects doesn’t make it for whatever reason, but prospects are like buses in the city. The next one will be along in five minutes.

What future for Joba’s past shoulder injury?

Guess when Joba suffered his shoulder injury. (Click to enlarge)

Joba Chamberlain and the Amazing Disappearing Velocity has long been one of my least favorite Yankee mysteries from the past half a decade. We know the story well. Joba left a start in Texas in 2008, missed a month of the season and returned without his velocity. He struggled through 2009 in the rotation as rumors of a shoulder injury more serious than the Yanks were letting on persisted and pitched exclusively out of the pen in 2010 with his velocity nearing pre-injury levels. Despite rumors, we never really knew the extent and severity of the injury, the cause of the long-term impact it would have on Joba.

On Tuesday, Yanks’ GM Brian Cashman seemingly spilled the beans. He mentioned Joba Chamberlain’s shoulder injury during his breakfast with Mike Francesa and spoke at length about it during an afternoon appearance on the Michael Kay Show. We now have insight into Joba’s struggles in 2009 and a firm reason why the Yanks want him in the bullpen.

“I don’t think his stuff is the same since he hurt himself in Texas. He used to be a guy who threw the same as a starter and as a reliever. He threw the high-octane 94-99 and you saw it in the first inning as a starter as well as what out of the bullpen,” he said to Kay. “But since the Texas episode, the stuff as a starter has been watered down. I think we’ve seen enough of a sample even though you can argue it’s a small one. But in terms of the velocity and stuff like that, you have to respond to [the statement] ‘Well, if this is what he is as a starter now, that’s not what he was.'”

Cashman continued: “He was 89-92 vs. a guy that was 93-98. It’s a radically different animal now and so the stuff plays up better in the pen. I know people say it always does, but his stuff was consistent as both a starter and a reliever. It’s just not the same anymore that way.”

The Yanks’ GM then alit upon Joba’s seemingly subpar 2010 and spoke about the way the Yanks evaluated him as a reliever. Calling Joba a “huge bounce-back candidate,” Cashman expressed his faith in the pitcher Baseball America once considered the third-best prospect in all of baseball. “I think I think he’s a tremendous reliever,” the GM said. “He had a high batting average in balls in play, and so I think that ultimately he was more unlucky than people realize. He had some tremendous overall numbers in terms of relief stuff.”

Still, as an ardent believer that Joba should have one last chance at the starting rotation, I — without the luxury of Joba’s medicals — have to wonder if the Yanks are jumping the gun. Cashman spoke at length about sample sizes and even admitted that Joba’s sample was arguably a small one. What if it took him a long time to recover from the shoulder injury? What if he’s still building strength up to correct the damage? And why didn’t the Yankees shut him down permanently in 2008 when they knew his shoulder was hurt and their playoff chances were slim?

A day that will live in Yankee infamy. (AP Photo, Tony Gutierrez)

As Cashman’s comments reverberated throughout the baseball world today, a few commentators took on his assertions. In an extensive post on Pinstriped Bible that covers familiar ground, Cliff Corcoran reviews Joba’s injury and lays the blame on the errant throw from Ivan Rodriguez that sent Joba tumbling to the ground. Corcoran quotes himself and so will I:

. . . Chamberlain saw the home plate ump rule the ball foul and came forward off the mound pointing to both Kinsler and the umpire. Ivan Rodriguez didn’t hear him, and Rodriguez’s throw to second base came directly at Chamberlain’s head. In ducking that throw, Chamberlain lept backwards off his feet and landed on his rump before tumbling over in a backwards somersault. Before Chamberlain’s body hit the ground, however, his right arm reached back and attempted to brace his fall.

Chamberlain denied that the fall had anything to do with his injury. [Note: I suspect Chamberlain was simply protecting Rodriguez here. The moment he took that spill, I was worried about an arm injury.]

“I just got stiff,” Joba said at his locker after the game. “It was a little tight in the fourth, and I came back out in the fifth and, it’s not necessarily even in my shoulder. It’s kinda in my deltoid below my shoulder, so my strength was fine and my velocity was fine, I just kind of got a stiff arm.”


Said Chamberlain, “It doesn’t hurt in the wrong places to really, hopefully, be concerned, so I’m just gonna go and get everything taken care of . . . just so they can rule out everything and make sure everything’s alright. This is just getting stiff a lot in a short amount of time. It’s a little stiff, but other than that’s why we go back and just rule everything out.” Joba said he’d never had this sensation in his arm before, but when informed that Girardi intended to have him skip his next start, he said he’d, “hopefully just miss one if that’s the case”

Of greater concern is the Chamberlain quote that appeared on Peter Abraham’s blog last night in which Chamberlain said, “It was something where it grabbed and popped and got stiff.” “Grabbed” and “stiff” I can deal with, but “popped” makes me panic.

That one start Joba hoped to miss turned into a month, and when he returned, he was used only as a reliever in low-pressure situations. His velocity was clearly off, and it didn’t rebound until he moved to the bullpen in 2010. Cause and effect or just the effect of time heeling all wounds?

While Corcoran and I may be tilting at windmills in our efforts to blame Pudge for the decline and fall of Joba, we saw that game unfold and that disaster happen in August of 2008. It didn’t look good, but not everyone agrees. Rob Neyer wonders if Joba is just another pitcher who can’t stand the physical pressures of throwing 100 pitches every five days. It’s certainly another reasonable explanation, but it makes you wonder why the Yanks were so eager to have Joba make his return before 2008 ran out.

Ultimately, Joba is still a wanted man. “Some teams have obvious reached out to us about him in a steal attempt,” said Cashman. These clubs are “not necessarily giving up what I feel is fair value.” But just what is fair value? Is Joba a future set-up man doomed to bounce around the league and never living up to his potential? Is he Mariano’s heir apparent who is being groomed through tough love? Can the Yanks even get what they consider full value out of Joba is the whole world knows about a mysterious shoulder injury?

I think Cliff Corcoran said it best: “I’d still rather take my chances on a 25-year-old who has a 7.6 K/9, a low-to-mid-90s fastball, some bad luck on balls in play, and is another year removed from that supposedly career-altering injury than on the likes of Sergio Mitre or the slop throwing free agent alternatives, and I’d still be loathe to trade any significant prospects for a rotation solution without at least giving that 25-year-old a look first. Still, it’s nice to have a somewhat more substantial answer to why the Yankees won’t use Chamberlain that way, even if Cashman’s admission has likely diminished Chamberlain’s trade value in turn.”

Sherman: Cone to return to YES booth

Joel Sherman is at the BAT dinner tonight, and he ran into the Yanks’ old pal David Cone who shared some good news with The Post reporter. Coney will be returning to the YES booth for 25 games this season. We don’t yet know which member of the Yanks’ broadcast team Cone will be replacing, but my money’s on Tino taking his talents elsewhere. I’ve always enjoyed Cone’s contributions to the telecasts, and it’ll be good to hear him on the air again. I wonder if he’s finally figured out his dance yet.

Open Thread: “It was there, and it was gone”

Zack Greinke is down with F-I-P. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Yahoo’s Jeff Passan profiled Voros McCracken today, the godfather of DIPS theory (defense independent pitching stats, like FIP). McCracken is quite literally a genius, scoring 155 on a second grade IQ test that sent him directly to fourth grade and soon enough gifted classes, but these days he’s a bit of a tortured soul. He has little to show for his million dollar DIPS idea beyond a wristwatch, and he’s battled both depression and bipolar disorder. It’s a fantastic read and well worth your time, so give it a click.

Once you’ve done that, use this as your open thread for the night. The only local sports action tonight is the Rangers and Islanders, who are running out the clock before the All Star break.

Yankees sign Warner Madrigal

Via Kevin Golstein, the Yankees have signed right-hander Warner Madrigal to what we can assume is a minor league contract. The 26-year-old made his big league debut with the Rangers in Yankee Stadium back in 2008, where he surrendered Brett Gardner‘s first career hit and got tagged for six runs in just a third of an inning. His big league career features a 5.28 FIP in a measly 48.2 IP, all with Texas. Madrigal is a converted outfielder, and he missed most of 2010 with a forearm strain. His minor league career is short but stellar, featuring a 9.5 K/9 and just a 2.7 uIBB/9 in 208.2 relief innings through the years.

Baseball America ranked Madrigal as Texas’ 14th best prospect prior to 2009, noting a fastball that touched 96 and a swing-and-miss slider. The Triple-A Scranton bullpen is getting pretty crowded, so a few of these guys are going to get stuck playing in Double-A Trenton this summer. But depth is a good thing, zero complaints about a minor league deal.